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Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Were the builders of Stonehenge herders, not farmers?

An interesting discussion -- and it questions the widely-held thesis that Stonehenge was so elaborate, and needed such a sophisticated organizational and social structure to make it happen, that it can only have been built by a settled and stable community with large agricultural surpluses.  Well, I have been arguing for a long time that it was never actually finished -- so maybe that in itself leads to questions about just how settled and well-organized the builders really were.  I imagine that this one will run and run......


Herders, rather than farmers, built Stonehenge


from stonehengenews

The ancient builders of Stonehenge may have had a surprisingly meaty diet and mobile way of life. Although farming first reached the British Isles around 6,000 years ago, cultivation had given way to animal raising and herding by the time Stonehenge and other massive stone monuments began to dot the landscape, a new study finds.

Stonehenge in southern England may have been built by herders, not farmers, suggests a new analysis of crop remains from the last several millennia.

Agriculture’s British debut occurred during a mild, wet period that enabled the introduction of Mediterranean crops such as emmer wheat, barley and grapes, say archaeobotanists Chris Stevens of Wessex Archaeology in Salisbury, England, and Dorian Fuller of University College London. Farming existed at first alongside foraging for wild fruits and nuts and limited cattle raising, but the rapid onset of cool, dry conditions in Britain about 5,300 years ago spurred a move to raising cattle, sheep and pigs, Stevens and Fuller propose in the September Antiquity.

With the return of a cultivation-friendly climate about 3,500 years ago, during Britain’s Bronze Age, crop growing came back strong, the scientists contend. Farming villages rapidly replaced a mobile, herding way of life.

Many researchers have posited that agriculture either took hold quickly in Britain around 6,000 years ago or steadily rose to prominence by 4,000 years ago. In either case, farmers probably would have assembled Stonehenge, where initial work began as early as 5,500 years ago, with large stones hauled in around 4,400 years ago (SN: 6/21/08, p.13).

But if Stevens and Fuller’s scenario of British agriculture’s ancient rise, demise and rebirth holds up, then small groups of roaming pastoralists collaborated to build massive, circular stone and wood structures, including Stonehenge. Shifts from farming to pastoralism, sometimes accompanied by construction of stone monuments, occurred around the same time in parts of Africa and Asia, the researchers say.

“Part of the reason why pastoralists built monuments such as Stonehenge lies in the importance of periodic large gatherings for dispersed, mobile groups,” Fuller says. Collective meeting spots allowed different groups to arrange alliance-building marriages, crossbreed herds to boost the animals’ health and genetic diversity and hold ritual feasts. At these locations, large numbers of people could be mobilized for big construction projects, Fuller suggests.

“A predominantly pastoralist economy in the third millennium B.C. accords well with available evidence and provides a suitable backdrop to the early development of Stonehenge,” says archaeologist Timothy Darvill of Bournemouth University in England. But he believes many large stones were brought to Stonehenge during a later upswing in cereal cultivation, as pastoralism receded in importance.

Stevens and Fuller compiled data on more than 700 cultivated and wild food remains from 198 sites across the British Isles whose ages had been previously calculated by radiocarbon dating. A statistical analysis of these dates and associated climate and environmental trends suggested that agriculture spread rapidly starting 6,000 years ago. About 700 years later, wild foods surged in popularity and cultivated grub became rare.

Several new crops — peas, beans and spelt — appeared around 3,500 years ago, when storage pits, granaries and other features of agricultural societies first appeared in Britain, Stevens and Fuller find. An influx of European farmers must have launched a Bronze Age agricultural revolution, they speculate.

Stevens and Fuller’s analysis offers only a general breakdown of how farming and pastoralism developed in Britain, asserts archaeologist Alasdair Whittle of Cardiff University in Wales. The scale of cultivation, even during times characterized by relatively abundant remains of domesticated plants, remains uncertain, Whittle says.

Even if farmers didn't built Stonehenge, cultivators erected plenty of massive stone monuments, Whittle holds.
Bruce Bower

Link source: http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/343984/title/Herders%2C_not_farmers%2C_built_Stonehenge

8 comments:

Tony H said...

Well, having attended part of the recent dig at Clatford near Marlboro', led by MPP & Josh Pollard and others, I've since noticed that this was publicised, JUST to the Southampton Uni archaeology undergraduates, as an attempt to see if the site was where the remaining sarsen stones for Stonehenge's OUTER circle were gathered together, just before their journey from the Marlboro' Downs region down to Stonehenge. They are beginning to think they've found a prepared hardened surface either side of the river Kennet to ease sarsen stone shipment in a broadly southerly direction, and will no doubt be back next year to continue their excavating. They speculate the prepared surface goes in the direction of what was previously thought to be the medieval Lockeridge road. The sarsen route might thence have gone in the direction of Golden Ball Hill [Mesolithic houses found there in the '90's] and/or Knap Hill [early Neolithic causewayed camp].

And it may well be that the discovery of Mesolithic microliths etc in some abundance on the part of the Clatford excavation NORTH of the A4 may eventually demonstrate that the hunter -gatherers occupied that location for centuries before the true Neolithic began. There certainly already appears to be strong implications of continuity of settlement there from Mesolithic to Bronze Age.

The Southampton Uni Archaeology Dept info can be obtained by sticking STONES OF STONEHENGE; PARKER PEARSON; and CLATFORD in your jolly old Search Engine.

Geocur said...

The paper changes nothing regarding our understanding of the building of Stonehenge , for those who believed that cereal farming or diet was somehow believed to be a prerequisite for a “ sophisticated organizational and social structure “ or the ability to build monuments then maybe they have learnt something ,but we knew the builders of Gobleki Tepi were not farmers , and as noted by the authors of the paper Poverty Point was built by nut eaters as was the middle Jomon sites of Japan .

Tony H said...

....and following on from Geo's comments, did not that nice Richard III lookalike, Coast's and History of Ancient Britain [and a bit of N. France too] Neil Oliver, Shock & Awe us into believing them Mesolithic boys of Brittany lugged up a considerable monotony of megaliths just as them Cereal-eaters were beginning to intrude??! Wow.

Geocur said...

Tony , Mesolthic monument builders in Brittany ?tell us more .

Tony H said...

Geo,this was in "A History of Ancient Britain" fronted by Neil and repeating on 'Yesterday' just now.

We've discussed this in the past on the Blog. I've, however, traced it quickly on:-

http://www.eternalidol.com

Go then to "Stonehenge - a Mesolithic Area 51?" dated 2nd March 2011, written by Dennis Price.

Then go to my comments dated March 10th, 2011:-

'The Carnac stone rows described by Neil Oliver as "a statement of defiance....WE belong to this landscape"'.

I also mention, around that date on that blog, that there was a keen discussion on the BBC's own blogsite for these programmes.

Geocur said...

That's a bit scary , I did se the prog but must have missed the meso comment. The usual approx dates are first half of the 4th millenium with the algnment of Moulin going over a cairn which produced dates 4500-4300 BC from hearths underlying the cairn .

Tony H said...

But then, Geo, Neil O's whole persona is a bit scary, non? My new abbreviation/ acronym for him henceforth will be K9.

He's not a presenter for the faint-hearted, especially when filmed walking backwards along the cliff at Beachy Head or similar; although others may feel a shaft of hope, that their hearts are strangely warmed, when presented with such a scene. Such is optimism.

chris johnson said...

I agree with Geo that Stevens and Fuller's work seems to reinforce opinions that I have read elsewhere and date back several years. There are a lot of questions around the traditional hypothesis that farmers created surpluses which created elites which created monuments. I look forward to reading their evidence when and if they publish it in a readable form.